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‘Hug a Brit to stop Brexit’ Europeans urged

If Britain leaves the EU after its referendum in June, it won’t just affect Brits, but people from across Europe - none of whom will get a vote. Now Europeans can get involved – by love-bombing their British friends to encourage them to stay.

'Hug a Brit to stop Brexit' Europeans urged
Yinka Shonibare MBE, British Nigerian, hugged by German Katrin Lock.
The idea came from a group of Europeans living in London, who have launched a group called #PleaseDon’tGoUK. Their idea is simple: forget the debates and show the Brits some love – and then post the evidence online.
 
“It’s a little bit hippy, but a little bit of hippiness is needed. People are always arguing about cucumbers and shower caps. We wanted to do something positive instead of just talking about rules and regulations,” says Katrin Lock, a German who has lived in London for eleven years.
 
“It’s a love-bomb for the UK.”
 
The group has had contributions from French people, Italians, Germans, Spaniards and Swedes, both in the UK and on the continent, hugging their favourite Brits. Singer Jarvis Cocker, best known as frontman of nineties indie band Pulp, is one of the better-known Brits to have found himself on the receiving end of a Euro-hug.
 
“We just got a picture of someone hugging a statue of Virginia Woolf, too,” Lock says.
 
Jarvis Cocker gets a hug from Christine Ullmann, German.
 
The people in the photos are also asked to share their thoughts about their friendship and the referendum – or just why they like Britain. Italian Rosella Soravia, posing with her friend Saul, said: “I know Saul from going to boarding school in Malvern, where I spend the best two years of my life thanks to the great English humour and its great education.”
 
Berlin-based German Steffi Grimm, whose partner Simon lives in London, had more practical concerns: “Simon lives in London and I live in Berlin. We have been in a long distance relationship for 20 years. And now Brexit? Things would be even more complicated.”
 
Steffi and Simon
 
The reaction so far has been positive, even if the Brits are sometimes a bit reluctant.
 
“English people don’t like being hugged very much – they’re a bit reserved – but we try to be polite.”
 
As for what would happen if Britain voted to leave, Lock is apprehensive.
 
“I live here, this is my home, and so far I’ve been treated like everyone else. But I worry that there will be a distinction between UK and EU citizens in the future. Living somewhere else is a great thing and it would be a shame if that was taken away.”
 
The referendum will be held on June 23rd. Voting is open to all British citizens who live in the UK or have done so at some point in the last fifteen years. 
 

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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